President Obama’s initiative to expand high-quality pre-school programs across the country is getting a boost from retired military officers. Two retired generals from the Iowa National Guard visited a Des Moines pre-school last month to drum up support for the plan.

Brigadier General Mark Zirkelbach, who is retired from the Iowa Army National Guard, said too many high school graduates aren’t well-educated enough to enlist. He believes giving more kids a better start could help. “In Iowa, 12-percent of all high school students don’t graduate on time,” Zirkelbach noted. “Nineteen-percent of those who do graduate and try to join the Army can not score high enough on the military exams for math, literacy, and problem-solving (to be able to enlist).”

Zirkelbach is one of 365 retired military officers who are backing the president’s plan to spend $75 billion on a joint federal/state program that would extend pre-school to more low and middle income families. “When I tell people about Mission Readiness, they’re often surprised when I emphasize our strong interest in pre-kindergarten. It’s not something you’d expect retired admirals or generals to be talking about on any given day,” Zirkelbach said.

The generals are citing a study which shows the expansion of pre-school in Iowa could lead to thousands more qualified applicants for the military. Brigadier General Douglas Pierce is retired from the Iowa Air National Guard. “The study shows there’s a direct correlation to the benefits of Pre-K,” Pierce said.

An aide to Governor Branstad has said the governor needs to study the president’s proposal before taking a stance.